With the recent introduction of various Gauntlet modes in The Elder Scrolls: Legends, I thought I would take the opportunity to write about a few thoughts that have come to mind about the format over the past few weeks. To recap, here are some of the Gauntlet modes we’ve seen used in the game so far:
- Rumble: Vanilla. Constructed deck of your choice, get in there for some prizes.
- Epic Rumble: Just like Rumble except with a leaderboard for additional prizes.
- Grand Melee: Constructed deck of your choice, higher cost of entry, only one run, and the most rewarding leaderboard. (This is also where those fancy alternate-art Piercing Javelins came from.)
- Pauper: Similar to Rumble, except with a “Pauper” deck (all commons). Had a leaderboard.
- Singleton: Similar to Rumble, except with a “Singleton” deck (one copy maximum of each card). Had a leaderboard.
- Rumble in Skyrim: Not confirmed yet – the link is to the thread discussing the format’s apparent leak. Assumed to be similar to Rumble, except with a deck containing only cards from Heroes of Skyrim. Had a leaderboard.
The simplest gauntlet, the Rumble, has appeared multiple times – both in mid-June and late August. The Epic Rumble was in late June, and the only Grand Melee so far was in late July. Pauper and Singleton have been the two most recent Gauntlet modes at the time of my writing this, and Rumble in Skyrim is widely assumed to be the next iteration, likely announced very soon. I’ve been able to play each mode so far multiple times (enough to finish my leaderboard placement for all the ones with leaderboards), and have assembled some musings on the format over that time.
Thought #1: Gauntlets Are Getting Wackier
First, I want to preface this by saying that having multiple ways to play Legends (or any game) is decidedly a good thing. Even Chaos Arena, which I only personally view as a fun distraction to mostly entertain viewers, is a definite plus. Many games come under fire for not having enough different gameplay modes to appeal to a wide variety of players, and that’s one thing we definitely can’t say about Legends. Gauntlet mode existing, and allowing the developers to run different styles week after week, ensures that it’s never too monotonous; this is especially true if we consider the average player only plays a few hours per week, and the bulk of that time is likely on the weekends when Gauntlets have been active for those with a traditional work/school schedule.
However, the general trend, if you look at the dates of the past Gauntlet modes, is toward the less traditional modes. Pauper, Singleton, and Rumble in Skyrim aren’t just new arenas in which to test your competitive mettle in traditional Legends, but whole new deck-building requirements which create whole new metas. In the May 15, 2017 article announcing the release of Gauntlet mode, it was advertised as follows:
Have you hungered for a more competitive mode to test the mettle of your best constructed decks? Do you want to crush your opponents for loot and glory? Then our upcoming tournament-style mode, Gauntlet, is for you.
Gauntlet launches later this month and will introduce a variety of limited-time competitive events on a regular basis. Gauntlets will come in various forms including high-stakes events with leaderboards and exclusive cosmetic prizes.
-Dire Wolf Digital
The first mode announced with that article was Rumble, obviously the simplest and advertised as such. Beyond that, “competitive” formats in the Gauntlet mode have only been more expanded upon with the Epic Rumble and Grand Melee (which only appeared once). Grand Melee was the only one with what most people would call truly “high-stakes” prizes, and the only so far to offer any exclusive cosmetic prize in the Percing Javelin alt-arts.
More recently, Pauper, Singleton, and one might assume the upcoming Rumble in Skyrim, have given off more of a “Tavern Brawl” Hearthstone vibe than a “tournament-style” vibe. This is totally fine, and probably even preferable for some players, but is an interesting trend given what we know about the mode that I felt needed addressing. More thoughts on the nature of these recent formats will follow.
Thought #2: Leaderboards are Good
This is a quick thought, but I think leaderboads should just be universally applied to Gauntlets. Even the ones that aren’t meant to be competitive either in prize pool or format should probably count the first few runs for a leaderboard standing, and this is something the developers seem to agree with, as Pauper and Singleton have both had leaderboards.
Don’t get me wrong, a leaderboard doesn’t magically make a format competitively viable or interesting, but it does allow the developers to attach competition when there otherwise would be none. If they attached a leaderboard to the high-variance Chaos Arena, you would absolutely see players competing harder for spots on that leaderboard even if the prizes weren’t amazing simply because the idea of competing and succeeding is appealing. That said, it would be nice to have a full view of the leaderboard in the client, and potentially be able to search for other people on it besides yourself or see the records of the current top 100. I also think they should release the leaderboards as quickly as possible at the end of the event, and this is especially true for Gauntlets using the more forgettable formats.
Thought #3: Recent Formats are Competitively Bad but Not That Different
Gauntlet needs to pick a lane. Okay, maybe that’s harsh, and I clearly couldn’t think of a good way to describe my exact thoughts on these formats in a succinct title, so I’ll do my best to explain.
Gauntlet was initially marketed as a competitive mode, and they’ve (somewhat) stuck to that by attaching leaderboards to almost all the gauntlets. However, as mentioned earlier, the Gauntlet modes are getting less competitive, yet still aren’t going for modes that feel truly different from normal Legends like Hearthstone does with Tavern Brawl. (Note: I’m not saying TESL should try to emulate a lot of the randomness Hearthstone likes to inject in its Tavern Brawls – far from it.)
First, a bit on why I think the formats recently haven’t been competitively viable, which shouldn’t really be a surprise to anyone because they don’t seem like they were Gauntlets made for competition:
- The card pool is too small to limit further, which is what the Pauper and Rumble in Skyrim formats do. We only have two full expansions and one story to couple with Madhouse Collection and the monthly reward cards, and the pool of competitively viable cards shrinks even further when you restrict things like rarity or expansion. This creates a format in which things will feel “same-y” very quickly if people are playing to win. Singleton has been exempt from this, as it doesn’t limit the card pool in any way and actually increases the number of different cards you have to play, but that format has it’s own problems…
- Increased emphasis on variance in draws starts taking hold when you have to do something like play 50 different cards in a deck because you have to start playing worse or more narrow cards than normal. However, this also affects the Pauper and Rumble in Skyrim formats. How? By creating a wider gap between the “best” and “worst” cards you have to play, thus leading to games where it’s more likely that one player wins by simply drawing more of the better cards in the format. In Pauper, your Lightning Bolts and East Empire Crafters are way better than the worst cards you have to play to get your deck to 50, and there are comparably strong cards in the Skyrim-only format. Couple that with limiting the card pool so many games feel the same, and you have a truly bad competitive format.
These points, again, are pretty unsurprising. Clearly they aren’t making the Rumble or Singleton Gauntlet modes to be the pinnacle of competitive play. But then, what are they doing? The formats test deck-building to some degree, but again do not feel as different from traditional Legends to really be ground-breaking or interesting for too long. I think a lot of it stems from all the “wackier” modes (Pauper, Singleton, and Rumble in Skyrim) not breaking the rules of deck-building.
Perhaps this is an issue with the development side of things and how difficult it is to implement, but I could queue up my Singleton, Pauper, or Skyrim decks in ranked right now if I wanted. Many have stated that the Singleton format in particular might have been more interesting if it were accompanied by a decreased deck size, but that does change the fundamental rules of constructed deck-building in Legends, as many Hearthstone Tavern Brawls do.
If they want to make Gauntlet competitively interesting, the formats have to be better than this. On the other hand, if they want to create truly different and unique play experiences, I think there needs to be more change than a simple restriction, as those formats are easier to solve and can start feeling too similar very quickly, at which point those looking for a different-feeling format will probably get turned off.
Thought #4-4.5: Window of Entry and Leaderboards
Contrary to my last thought, these are directed more toward the formats that are making the attempt to be competitive – so the Epic Rumble and Grand Melee, mostly.
The window of entry, or the time these Gauntlets have been available to enter, has been a topic of some contention. Traditionally, they’re very small, only a weekend in length. The Grand Melee, the most competitive one so far, went even shorter with an 8 hour window of entry from 9 AM to 5 PM Eastern. This made it very difficult for players working during that time or from different time zones to compete effectively, even though in-person card games would usually have tournaments in the same time slot.
I agree with keeping the less competitive Gauntlets like Pauper limited to a short window of entry since the formats can lose their novelty quickly. I think if they push more boundaries and make those formats more interesting, that could possibly be increased to a full week. I must stress that I think the more competitive gauntlets need a larger window to entry, even though the only Gauntlet that I think so far qualified as that would be the Grand Melee.
One potential issue is the amount of players in the game, and then of course, the amount of players willing to spend the increased entry fee on a mode like that and with the care to even play that kind of competitive mode. Cosmetic rewards would continue to help with motivation, but having the event run for too long might make it difficult for the client to keep finding players unique opponents throughout their runs. This wasn’t an issue for the Grand Melee since everyone had to play within the same eight hours, so queue times were very short and there was no shortage of players at any time within the window.
I have no knowledge of the playerbase, but if there would be a legitimate concern among the developers that there wouldn’t be enough players to justify a longer run for a mode like Grand Melee, the game needs more players, period. It’s no secret that I feel the marketing for this game has been sub-par throughout its history, but if we are to ever get true competition, we can’t allow the player pool to be so weak that it affects the competitive integrity of these modes, should we see more of them. This is on Bethesda’s side and not Dire Wolf’s, and since even the Grand Melee wasn’t truly that high-stakes compared to what the mode could be used for (qualifying people for tournaments that award real prize pools and feed into a potential World Championship structure) it wasn’t that big of an issue this time.
In the future, should these events reach their competitive potential, an 8-hour window simply isn’t good enough. All countries play in the same server against each other, so areas in the wrong time zone would be at a distinct disadvantage due to having to play at very awkward hours and change their sleep schedule, to say nothing of people potentially at work/school during the wrong hours or having to play from mobile.
Additionally, the Grand Melee only allowed one run due to the time constraints, which brings me to my next point about leaderboards. For competitive gauntlets, one run feels like a tournament but if the purpose is to develop a very accurate leaderboard for the purposes of large prize pools or qualifying people for big tournaments outside of the client, one run is not a sufficient sample size and I even feel that three or four wouldn’t be desirable. Gwent’s Pro Ladder, to my knowledge, uses two months of data for MMR with a minimum of 100 games played with each faction, which is used to qualify for events with large cash prize pools. By comparison, a 12-game sample size like Grand Melee feels downright silly, even given the very low stakes by comparison. I realize spreading out the events and making the sample size much larger might turn into a playerbase issue, but honestly, that should not be a concern we have to deal with when it comes to making the best events possible that achieve the desired results.
All of this would of course only matter in the more competitive Gauntlets (and as mentioned, they seem to be going a different path recently), but in the final part I will brainstorm some different ways this type of thing could be implemented.
Thought #5: Brainstorming Features
For the more casual Gauntlets, I would like formats that feel more different from traditional Legends, since it’s clear the cards weren’t designed with formats like Pauper and Singleton in mind anyway, so these formats’ main pull needs to be their novelty. If this is achieved, I would also like to see them last longer than a weekend. I also think this is a perfect opportunity to add cosmetic rewards that has so far been missed since they’re re-using mostly the same prize table. Why not add a fun title for someone who manages to go 7-wins in the Pauper Rumble or the Skyrim rumble? This is also where cosmetic rewards like card backs or alternate portraits/avatar borders could absolutely shine if they had ever been implemented.
For the more competitive Gauntlets, I would first like to have them feed into a greater tournament structure so they can live up to the phrase “high-stakes,” and I would then like to have them organized in such a way that allows them to give players a truly large sample size so as to consistently get accurate rankings.
Some examples of this in a perfect world might be a Grand Melee in which:
- Players play with one deck per run, and each run goes up to 9 wins or 3 losses
- The Grand Melee is open (with infinite potential entries) for a period of 3 weeks (possibly even a month if the playerbase allows)
- Each run gives its own prizes
- A minimum of 10 runs is required to place on the leaderboard, and your average score out of all runs attempted determines your position (incentives continued playing after 10 runs if you want to increase your average, but if you have a good average at 10 runs, it disincentives you from continuing to play to tank other people’s leaderboard score).
- Your 10+ leaderboard runs have to include at least 5 different classes at some point. this encourages meta diversity, ensures you will also play against a variety of decks, and rewards players skilled in a variety of strategies while not forcing players attempting the leaderboard to have decks of every class.
- The leaderboard of course reflecting the difficulty of the mode and having increased prizes, in addition to the top 16/32 finishers being qualified for a high-profile online tournament which might then qualify players for a high-stakes in-person event, cementing Gauntlet mode as the backbone of the competitive scene which then makes it very easy for newer players to find the entry into tournaments if they so desire.
The great thing about Gauntlet mode is that they could run the hyper-competitive Grand Melee I mentioned alongside the week-long casual format Gauntlets I suggested if they so choose. Either way, I think the casual format gauntlets have a lot of room to grow from the things they’ve done so far, and I think the Grand Melee Gauntlet has barely scratched the surface of what the mode could do for a future competitive scene.
Of course, these are all just my thoughts. I’m fully aware that my hopes and dreams for what Gauntlet mode could become in a perfect world may not (and frankly probably don’t) align with their plans for the mode, and development restrictions, budget concerns, and marketing are all severely limiting factors that I have absolutely no control over. These are just the musings of someone who has played a lot of Legends and hopes his ideas on how we might play the game in the future are at least interesting and thought-provoking to read about. So, I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed the read and that this generates some interesting discussion! Until next time, good luck on the ladder and may all your Arena drafts be reasonable.